Police/Civilian Complaint Review Boards (CCRB's) are common across the country, especially in large metropolitan areas. According to Lou Reider, a police consultant and former Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, "about half the major cities in America, that is the top 200, have some form of civilian complaint review board."
Most CCRB's came into being directly after some incident in which segments of the community felt the police had used unnecessary force. The intent of setting up a CCRB, therefore, was to gain more civilian control of police policy, especially in the area of the use of force.
But, the effectiveness of CCRB's has been widely questioned. "I've never seen a Civilian Review Board that works as well as what we currently have." Reider said in an interview for the Democrat. Echoing the arguments of Scott Hunt, Spokesperson for the Tallahassee Police Department, Reider noted that there is already civilian review of police policy and activity in the form of elected public officials and the grand jury system.
As Hunt pointed out, there are now three investigations of every police use of deadly force in Tallahassee. First, there is a criminal investigation performed by the Criminal Investigation Division to determine whether or not the officer abided by state law. If not, criminal charges can be brought. Second, the Internal Affairs Division of the police department conducts another investigation to determine whether the officer followed departmental policy. And, third, there is grand jury oversight.
Reider commented: "If I were a [Police] Union representative, I would want a review board" because CCRB's are frequently more lenient on police officers than are these other bodies. In fact, in Detroit, several years ago one of the major complaints about the CCRB there was that it had become a "rubber stamp" for the police department.
But, some local community activists such as the Rev. R. N. Gooden say they have been trying to establish a CCRB in Tallahassee for over thirty years. Rev. Gooden, Rev. G. Vincent Lewis, President of the Tallahassee Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and a number of other community groups are not satisfied with the oversight being provided by the current system, especially in light of the recent shooting of Robert Harvey. And, it may well be that those wanting to establish a Review Board will get their way.
According to Sharon Ofuani, Director of Tallahassee's Equal Opportunity Department the city is currently involved in a discussion with the Police Department about establishing a CCRB. But, there are no details available about how such a Board would be put together and how it would function.
Reider says that none of the CCRB's across the country have the statutory authority to make a final decision in cases, but instead, primarily perform an audit function, submitting a report, and sometimes doing investigations of police conduct.
Law enforcement has traditionally resisted the establishment of CCRB's, arguing that law enforcement officers, like lawyers and doctors, are professionals and therefore are in the best position to discipline themselves.
But, it would be fairly easy to make the argument that no professional group really polices itself very effectively, there are just too many vested interests and interlocking relationships for groups to police themselves. And unlike doctors and lawyers, where the citizens have a choice - citizens can't just opt to go to another police department if they don't like the one they have.
It will be interesting to see how this discussion develops. The Tallahassee Human Relations Council has issued a report recommending a CCRB. The important issue now, is what form the proposed board will take and what authority it will have. Citizens interested in the process can contact Sharon Ofuani at City Hall. Christina Johns is a professor at FAMU and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Law and Society at FSU. Her commentaries can be heard on WFSU's Morning Edition.